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In the Arena with NOW’s Season 1: Amplifying Voices of National Leaders

Updated: Jun 29

By Tiffany Rodriguez, Program Coordinator, Vital Village Networks

Contributions and edits by Diana Rivera, NOW Program Manager, & Ronda Alexander, Director of Operations, at Vital Village Networks




Celebrating Season 1


In early 2019, we officially launched the podcast series, In the Arena with NOW, the title of which draws from Teddy Roosevelt’s quote “The Man in the Arena.” This theme highlights how communities are collectively stepping into the ring of transformation to create the spaces they want to live and thrive in -- from classrooms, playgrounds, Congressional halls, hospitals, and neighborhood streets -- and ensure that all children can have a healthy start. Now, in 2021, we come together to celebrate the full launch and completion of Season 1 by inviting each of you to reflect and celebrate the ongoing journey (which includes many of you) of In The Arena with NOW.


How It All Began


Community stories are powerful vehicles for building connections, fostering peer learning, and inspiring action and transformation. It was important for the Vital Village NOW team to honor and center the voices and wisdom of community leaders directly -- not translated or filtered through us. Podcasts have emerged as a powerful, inclusive, and accessible medium to do just that.


As a first step in the creation of In The Arena with NOW, we sought out the wide range of community resources around podcast development to build our own knowledge and skills. We attended community workshops, watched online trainings and Youtube tutorials, and participated in a story mapping exercise, all of which informed the podcast vision, design, and focus. Each episode in the program dives into the experiences of local coalitions, residents, and experts who are working to create equitable systems of care and education: what they are doing and why, challenges and successes faced, and advice for others seeking to build, grow, and sustain momentum for the long haul.


Most important to us was the counter stories waiting to be told. The NOW eam truly believes that each community should have the power to tell their story -- in their own words. During each interview, our incredible host Ronda Alexander, Director of Operations at Vital Village Networks, leveraged her curiosity for the untold stories that lay within the why, the challenges and successes, and within the praxis of creating a community that fostered thriving children and families.


The Making Of An Episode


Creating an episode of In The Arena with NOW takes a whole team effort. We begin with scheduling a time for recording interviews with community leaders to feature in each episode. Because of COVID-19 and the nature of engaging with a national network, we have used tools such as Zencastr to digitally record our conversations with guests located across the country. Before COVID-19 emerged in early 2020, if we were lucky to be in the same room as the coalition we were interviewing, we booked a spot at a local recording studio based in Boston, MA, Podcast Garage. The voice that brought the story to life was our amazingly talented, Ronda Alexander, who as the host of In The Arena with NOW was able to weave conversation and storytelling with each interview


A lot of the magic of creating an episode came together after the recording was uploaded online as we began the production process. We started with using free editing tools that were easily available to us, including Garageband available on Apple and Mac computers, and spliced in a special audio created for the podcast by Morgan Breland, a former Americorps VISTA with Vital Village Networks. Once we got the vibe and sound wanted, we continued to edit and tweak the audio of each episode that generally followed a special flow and formula. When COVID-19 transitioned the growing work that we do as part of the NOW Project initiative, we partnered with Resonate [insert link] to help with the editing process.


Making sure that each coalition feels accurately represented and is proud of their story is a number one priority for our team. We make sure to schedule in review time so that the coalitions featured can share final feedback and approval before any episode goes live.


It was not always easy but the moments between production and publication -- when we were able to connect with community leaders all across the nation and hear about the impact they were making in their local communities -- sparked motivation, inspiration and joy for the NOW team, and we hope participants and users of the program.


As we reflect on Season 1, we learned a few key lessons:

  • Finding your unique sound is important. In The Arena With NOW features music from Morgan Breland, a previous VVN team member and AmeriCorps VISTA. Ultimately, it is the community voices from our interviews and conversations that ground each episode and the series.

  • Editing takes a significant amount of time, and be sure to plan for it. This is especially the case when you are dedicated to honoring the expertise and voice that is being shared. In the spring of 2021, the NOW team partnered with Resonate Recordings to do the heavy lifting of podcast editing, which allowed the team to focus more energy and capacity around overall strategy, planning, and other production pieces to share the episodes to broader audiences

  • Language justice is a practice that we must continue to work on. Season 1 included our first and to date only bilingual episode featuring Conectando, formally Adelante, from New Mexico. You can listen to it here.

Highlights and Hopes


Each of the 15 episodes in Season 1 was truly a highlight of In The Arena with NOW --rom the first episode, “Centering Stories Though Community Mediation,” which featured Vital Village Network voices from the Social Justice Mediation Program, , to the season finale that takes us to the Big Apple to hear about the New York Immigration Coalition and The LIFE Project through the final episode, “Building on The Strengths Of Immigrant Families To Promote Quality Early Care And Education Access.” The NOW team was able to tap into stories from the East Coast to the West Coast, and the special places in between, including the Navajo Nation, Newark, New Jersey, The Twin Cities, and Tuscaloosa, Alabama.


Stay tuned for Season 2 where we talk with leaders, advocates, and visionaries about collective and solidarity efforts that are working to transform systems for healthier and equitable communities -- including cooperatives, community-owned and led initiatives, and more!


Listen to the full first season of In The Arena with NOW, available here as well as Apple, Stitcher, Spotify, and other podcast platforms:

  • 15. The LIFE Project: Building on The Strengths Of Immigrant Families To Promote Quality Early Care And Education Access

  • 14. Austin Neighborhood Network: The Value of Collaboration & Community Driven

  • 13. Essex County Council for Young Children: Centering Parent Leadership to Foster a Trauma Informed Newark

  • 12. Brazelton Touchpoints Center: Honoring the Strengths and Expertise of Children and Caregivers

  • 11. Family Engagement Network: Supporting Families is the Key to Successful Workforce Development

  • 10. Adelante, Adelante: El movimiento hacia la justicia del idioma y la equidad/Adelante, Adelante: The Movement Towards Language Justice and Equity

  • 9. From Data to Action: Community Stories Lead to Policy Change

  • 8. Residents Driving Change: The Community Solutions Grant Program

  • 7. Community Data into Action: An African American Breastfeeding Blueprint

  • 6. Building Beloved Community for Children and Families in South Carolina

  • 5. Honoring Culture, Language, and Family: Stories from the Navajo Nation

  • 4. The Power of Peer Learning and Capacity Building: Improving Access to Quality Early Care and Education in Philadelphia

  • 3. Cultivating Leaders of Color in Early Care and Education

  • 2. Letting Communities Lead: Relationship Building and Listening for Systems Change

  • 1. Centering Stories through Community Mediation




For more information about In the Arena with NOW, check out this blog post by Ronda Alexander celebrating the program’s launch in March 2019.



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